A story about virtualization

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I'm sure you all will be a bit disappointed (I know I am) that there are no ascii screenshots in this weeks report. But let me make it up to you by telling you a story.

I was at the FOSDEM in the year 2012 and I went to a nice workshop on sunday afternoon in the Virtualization Devroom. Renzo Davoli was the host of this workshop and he started with a little introductory talk to get everyone to agree on a common terminology first. He began by asking the question, what virtualization meant in the most general way. He defined the ability to virtualize a resource as the ability to freely and transparently control how someone (say a process) is interacting with said resource. So for example if you LD_PRELOAD a library to impersonate fopen(3) and friends, you have virtualized the filesystem (for some small values of virtualized). He then went on to discuss various methods of virtualization that are commonly available on Linux, not only full system virtualization solutions, but also all kinds of methods allowing a more fine-grained control over what resources are virtualized. Of course every method had its strengths and its weaknesses.

Having seen Samuels talk about all the awesome things Hurd can do for virtualization I approached him with a question in the free discussion part of his workshop. I asked whether he would agree that once a resource is moved from the kernel to the userspace, the problem of virtualizing that resource is almost trivially solved, and he agreed. So I said that this was awesome, because then the trivial and elegant solution for all his virtualization (and tracing) needs are micro kernel operating systems, and he also agreed to that but (as far as I can recall) he mentioned that there is none that would meet his needs (I believe he is a computer science professor and heavily relies on virtualization techniques for his lab and for teaching purposes).

And even though a microkernel operating systems has a cost (message passing instead of function calls for example) it also has its merits such as scaling better from a development point of view. Also, many cool features can emerge just from the design. For example think about the container support in Linux and how painfully long it took to make all the resources namespace aware (with one of the most critical, the user namespace being the most difficult one). On Hurd you get the same functionality for free. If you are curious, read Samuels awesome slides.

So what have I done this week?

Next week I'm going to work on the two remaining sysvinit related issues. These are the only ones preventing me to come up with a clean patch series against the sysvinit package and I figured that it would be nice to propose such a series rather sooner than later so that I will have plenty of time to discuss any issues with the sysvinit maintainers.

See you next week :)

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